This tape opens with a saucy trailer for Sky Movies’ After Dark season.
Then we get the movie proper, and it’s Gremlins 2 The New Batch. Joe Dante’s sequel to his original classic is possibly one of his greatest movies. It’s pure, refined Dante, featuring pretty much everything that a Joe Dante movie should have, plus loads and loads of gremlins.
It opens with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck arguing over who should represent 50 (60?) years of Looney Tunes.
It opens, as did the original, in Chinatown, where Mr Wing’s (Keye Luke) antique store, where Gizmo the Mogwai came from originally resides. Dante favourite Robert Picardo arrives, with a message from the property developer, Daniel Clamp, offering to buy up his store. But he isn’t interested. However, he’s also quite old and ill, and Picardo says, as he’s leaving, “Did you hear that cough? He’s an antique. We can wait.”
I love the Clamp company logo, a squashed Earth in a huge clamp.
Six Weeks Later, and Mr Wing is dead, and they’re demolishing his shop – without clearing it out, because Gizmo’s still in there. The animatronic work in this movie was by Rick Baker, taking over from Chris Walas on the first film, and his studio must have been massively busy, given the amount and scale of the creature work in this movie.
Gizmo alone does a lot more than he did in the first movie – right away, we see him running to escape the demolition, although the blue screen work is slightly noticeable. Gizmo is found by someone who catches him, but we don’t yet know who he is.
Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates return from the first movie, and their first job is to set up an explanation as to why the Futtermans from the first film, who we’d probably assumed were killed by Gremlins driving a plough through their home, are actually still alive, and visiting them later.
They work in the Clamp Center, a huge, fully automated office building. And it’s a somewhat hostile work environment. Even as they enter the building, a man gets thrown from the spinning revolving door.
Billy’s boss isn’t very nice to him, and Robert Picardo comes around to tell him he can’t have a potted plant, or his own picture on his cubicle wall. He uses a barcode scanning wand to scan Billy’s barcode so he can find out his name.
Picardo is a horrible enforcer. He sacks the unfortunate Henry Gibson (another Dante favourite, from The ‘Burbs) when he lights up an unauthorised cigarette. (Although smoking is allowed – Billy’s boss has a cigarette. Smoking in offices is already seeming like something that happened a generation ago.)
Kate works as a tour guide, whose hats are brilliant.
Also operating from the building is the Clamp Cable Network, where horror host Robert Prosky shows old movies – one of which was (I think) one of the first movies Rick Baker worked on, Octoman.
It doesn’t even show up in iMDb, so perhaps I’m making it up – maybe it was part of a different movie, as a spoof. But I’m fairly sure Baker built the monster.
Joe Dante himself pops up in a cameo as the TV director directing Prosky’s segment.
One of the other tenants in the building is a scientific research centre run by Dr Catheter, the great Christopher Lee.
It was one of his scientists who captured Gizmo, and Billy learns that Gizmo when a mail carrier passes by whistling so he goes to investigate. The receptionist is using a Classic Mac.
Clamp’s own receptionist also has a classic Mac, which seems to be attached to a newer Macintosh version, when they stopped being all-in-ones.
The automated voices throughout the building are brilliant. Billy enters the toilet. “Mr, welcome to the Men’s Room” Another man leaves: “Hey Pal, I sure hope you washed those hands.”
When Billy brings Gizmo back to his office, there’s excitement as Daniel Clamp himself comes to visit, not something that usually happens. He sees Billy’s concept drawing of the proposed Clamp Chinatown development and really likes it, so Billy’s boss, Marla, latches on to him. She’s still smoking.
She insists that she and Billy go out to dinner to discuss her plans for advancement so he has to ask Kate to take Gizmo home. She’s horrified at the thought of more Gremlins.
Before she can reach him, though, a janitor (played by John Astin, father of Sean and TV’s Gomez Addams) fixing a water fountain manages to get Gizmo wet, and a whole bunch of new Mogwai are hatched.
Another announcement: “Will the owner of the car 1AG 401 please remove it from the Clamp Parking Garage. Your car is old and dirty.”
Kate gets to Billy’s office and finds a Mogwai there, but it’s not Gizmo, although she doesn’t realise.
When Billy realises it’s not Gizmo, he has to go back to the building, but they’re interrupted by their visitors from Kingston Falls – It’s the Futtermans, Dick Miller (who’s in every single Joe Dante movie) and Jackie Joseph, whom we had presumed died in the first film.
The other Mogwai are busy stuffing themselves – composer Jerry Goldsmith makes a cameo appearance.
The film is just overflowing with non sequiturs, like the police van that’s carrying a gang of arrested mimes.
Billy gets arrested trying to close the buildings doors down, and when he gets back to the building, the Gremlins have had plenty of time to pupate.
“We’re experiences a temporary problem with our illumination. Please try not to notice.”
There’s a great scene where Billy tries to explain the Gremlin rules to the people in the control room, and they start having exactly the same kinds of pedantic, nitpicky arguments about interpreting the rules that everyone had after the first film. “What if they were on a plane, and it crossed into another timezone? It’s always after midnight somewhere.” One of the control room team is comedian Archie Hahn.
In a couple of scenes, you can hear that the sound the lift doors make is the classic Star Trek lift sound.
Leonard Maltin appears, doing a negative review of the original Gremlins on video.
The Gremlins get into Christopher Lee’s lab, and start drinking all his experiments, which leads to a whole slew of mutated gremlins, like the vegetable gremlin.
Christopher Lee appears holding a pod from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The Brain Gremlin talks like Tony Randall, and lets us hear the Gremlins’ side of things for once.
There’s a bat gremlin, which the Brain injects with genetic sunblock, featuring some lovely stop motion.
“Please take a moment at this time to locate the exit nearest to you, and to go through it very quickly. because of the danger that is here in the building.”
“Fire! The untamed element, oldest of man’s mysteries, giver of warmth, destroyer of forests, right now this building is on fire. Leave the building. Enact the age-old drama of self preservation.”
Outside in the city, the Futtermans are sightseeing, looking around The Cathedral of Saint Eva Marie. They’re attacked by the Bat Gremlin, but Mr Futterman manages to cover it in concrete, and it flies back to the top of the cathedral and forms a gargoyle.
The Gremlins don’t always break stuff. They’ve taken the time to build a lego gremlin.
At this point, the film breaks down. This is quite cool, as there were at least two versions of this scene. In cinemas, they do the projector stopping/film melting gag, then some gremlins do shadow puppets, then an old black and white ‘nudist’ film starts, and it cuts to a cinema where an outraged mother is complaining to the manager. Hulk Hogan also appears in this segment.
But the version here is a different one, designed for TV showings, where the picture appears to break down, and we get the same gremlin shadows, but over static.
Then there’s some random news footage, and a sequence featuring archive footage of John Wayne, with some gremlins, plus a clip from an old Bugs Bunny movie featuring a gremlin.
There’s even a Gremlin testcard
Here’s that scene.
I’m slightly disappointed that the version currently playing on demand on NowTV has the original movie breakdown scene. And I’m absolutely sure there was a third version of this breakdown scene designed specifically for the VHS release, but it’s nowhere to be found on YouTube so perhaps I just imagined it, and they actually just used the TV breakdown version.
Horror Host Robert Prosky is still in the now abandoned Cable studio, and realises that he’s got exclusive access to a massive news story, so he grabs a Japanese tourist to operate the camera, and starts broadcasting from the building.
The sight gags are coming thick and fast now. Here’s a particular favourite.
Christopher Lee gets electrocuted by an electric gremlin, which then gets trapped in the building’s phone system as a telephone call on hold.
Billy is tied up, and a dentist gremlin starts trying to drill his teeth, just to get a Marathon Man reference in there. But I laughed.
having watched Rambo on TV earlier in the movie, Gizmo gets all tooled up to save the day.
Kate : “Something terrible happened to me on Lincoln’s birthday…”
There’s a huge production number, when the Gremlins are all gathered in the lobby waiting to go outside. Billy’s plan is to turn the clocks in the building forward so they think it’s night outside, then open the doors and the sun will kill them. But the clouds roll in and the sun is blocked out, so that plan won’t work.
So Billy gets Mr Futterman to turn the firehoses on the gremlins, so they all start hatching new gremlins, and when they’re all deep in water, he transfers the electric gremlin on hold to a nearby phone, and releases it into the water, electrocuting all the gremlins.
Cue more gags, like a Wizard of Oz reference.
So everything is tied up nicely. Clamp falls in love with Billy’s boss, Marla (is that a reference to another idiotic New York developer who had an affair with somebody called Marla? Except John Glover is far more personable and attractive than Donald Trump ever was.)
After the end credits, there’s more animation from Daffy and Bugs, with a credit to Chuck Jones.
But that’s not all on this tape, for next, we have Arachnophobia. I first saw this before it was released officially in the UK, at the London Film Festival, because it was that year’s surprise film. I loved it, but there were a surprising number of walkouts when the title appeared.
It opens with Julian Sands – this is usually a bad sign for a film, but here he’s perfectly fine, his stiff Englishness suiting his character perfectly. He’s on a scientific mission to collect and catalogue new species of insects and spiders.
His photographer gets bitten by a large spider, and dies, and his body is packed in a coffin and sent back to his home town – with one of the spiders in tow.
When it arrives in his home town, it gets out of the coffin, having sucked the body dry. Then it leaves the morgue, is picked up by a crow, which drops it further out of town when it kills it, and ends up in a barn of the house where Jeff Daniels and his family are just moving in.
Daniels is moving in to the town to take over the general medical practice of the local doctor who’s retiring, and selling him his practice.
Meanwhile, in the barn, the giant south american spider is getting friendly with a local species.
When Danels goes to see him, the old doctor has changed his mind and decided not to retire yet, leaving Daniels to open his surgery with no patients. Except one, Margaret Hollins (Mary Carver) a local woman who doesn’t have a high opinion of old Doctor Metcalf. But she’s the epitome of good health – he even tells her she doesn’t need the tablets Dr Metcalf prescribed for her blood pressure.
It’s established that Daniels is deeply arachnophobic since a childhood trauma. His wife tries to get him to face his fears by looking at the massive spiders’ webs in the barn, but it doesn’t help.
A few weeks later, Margaret throws a party for Daniels to welcome him to the town, and so that the locals know he’s there, and he might drum up some business. It’s a nice scene which introduces plenty of the townspeople in an organic way, and manages to impart some important plot points.
After the party, one of the newly hatched hybrid spiders gets into Margaret’s house. The spiders are a lot smaller than the one which came from the Amazon, but they’re no less deadly.
Daniels calls on Margaret the next day to find her dead. Dr Metcalf thinks it was a heart attack, and accuses Daniels of malpractice for taking her off her hypertension medication. Daniels knows it must have been something else, but Metcalf refuses to authorise a post mortem.
To compound their woes, he finds that his cellar is rotten, and thinks there must be termites, so they call in the exterminator, a brilliant performance from John Goodman.
The local Football coach gets Daniels to give all his team a physical, and at practice afterwards, a spider got into one of the helmets, and one of the boys dies. Dr Metcalf: “From what I hear it wasn’t a hard tackle. I only wish I knew. You see, Dr Jennings examined him last.”
Jennings is being called Doctor Death by the local kids, but his luck changes in the most tragic way, when Dr Metcalf is the next spider victim. His wife saw the spider, but the local coroner is sceptical about spider bite. When an autopsy indicates that the death might have been caused by an unknown toxin, he decides to pursue the spider lead, and he contacts Julian Sands, who sends one of his research students. Again, he says it’s unlikely, since even a Black Widow bite wouldn’t usually be enough to kill a healthy adult, but when they find bites on all three victims, he has to accept the possibility, and he calls Sands to tell him to come down. Meanwhile, Sands asks him to find a specimen.
This leads to a nicely tense scene in Margaret’s house looking for the spider.
Sands arrives, and examines one of the spiders. He surmises that the original male who came over has bred an army of drone spiders, which can’t reproduce, but somewhere the original male has bred a queen, and will be hatching a generation of fertile spiders. They’re looking for an enclosed space, dark, warm, musty.
Sands recognises the spider webs in a photo taken by Daniels’ wife of their barn, and investigates. Because he’s posh and English, you know he’s not going to make it.
Daniels gets to his house, to find his family, and there’s a lot of spiders. This is brilliantly tense, as they’re driven up the stairs into a bathroom by the approaching spiders. All except Daniels make it out of the house, and Goodman makes a heroic last minute appearance to save them all.
But Daniels is trapped in the house, and when he falls from the upper stairs, he falls right through the rotten floor into his cellar – the location of the nest. It’s up to him to face his crippling fear and deal with the nest. Trapped under one of his fallen wine racks, he has to fend off the huge male spider by chucking bottles of brandy at it, and finally by propelling it, on fire into the nest with a nail gun.
A love this film, and have done ever since it was a surprise. It’s beautifully written, by Don Jakoby and Wesley Strick, with well crafted characters, snappy dialogue, a plot that makes sense, and tons of suspense. It was directed by longtime Spielberg producer Frank Marshall with a sure touch, and it has a really nice score by Trevor Jones, even if it does end with a crappy 80s song on the end titles.
After this film, and a few adverts, it switches to the middle of Annie Hall for no reason I can fathom. The tape ends after about 30 minutes of that.
- trail: The Guardian
- Citroen ZX